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National herbs and spices day

National herbs and spices day
Glen Pearson/CNN
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Monday, June 10, 2013 - 4:39pm

Spice up your life! Today is National Herbs and Spices Day.

While herbs and spices are often talked about synonymously, they're quite the opposite. Herbs - think thyme, rosemary and sage - are typically the leaves of herbaceous plants, whereas spices are the roots, flowers, fruits, seeds or bark of plants. They're also usually dried.

To further confuse matters, there are a few plants that are both herbs and spices. Take, for example, the Coriandrum sativum plant: Its leaves are what we commonly call cilantro, while its seeds are the spice coriander.

Storing your herbs and spices properly keeps them fresh longer. Spices are best kept in airtight containers in a dark cupboard, and whole spices have a longer shelf life. Buying whole spices gives you the option of toasting and grinding only the amount you need for each dish. It also allows you to create unique spice blends for grilling and rubs.

Herbs are best kept on the plant for as long as possible. Most herbs are small enough to grow in pots on a kitchen counter or window sill so long as they get enough sun and water.

Both herbs and spices can add varying degrees of flavor. Herbs can brighten up a dish that simmers for a long time, like a tomato sauce or stew, while spices can add heat and richness to a dish that cooks relatively quickly like a crusted protein.

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